Paiute Peak 13,088'

Paiute Peak from the south.  Photo: Rob Writz

Paiute Peak is one of the more intimidating of the Indian Peaks along the Continental Divide. The broad Southeast Face above Little Blue Lake does not reveal the steep Northeast and West Faces that are above the remote Thunderbolt and Coney drainages. The North Ridge itself is one of the major roadblocks between Canada and Mexico on the Continental Divide. From the ski mountaineer’s perspective, Paiute Peak is one of the more under skied peaks in the Blue Lakes area because Mount Toll and Audubon capture most of the attention. Paiute hosts several moderate lines, as well as remote futuristic lines that are looking for more action. The ski descents described here do not originate at the true summit of Paiute. The true summit is the furthest point northwest on the Paiute summit block.

+ ROUTES

Shared Approach to Little Blue Lake

The Southeast Face, Curvaceous Couloir, South Slope, and Little Blue Couloir share a common approach to Little Blue Lake. Little Blue Lake is accessed from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead on the Brainard Lake Road. Ski approximately 2.25 miles from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead to Blue Lake. The Mitchell Lake and Blue Lake summer trail will lead you to Blue Lake, but it can be hard to follow when the trail is covered in snow. An alternative is to skirt to southwest side of Mitchell Lake and proceed west and southwest through low angle and open terrain to regain the approximate line of the trail. From Blue Lake climb on the north side of the lake and head northwest about seven tenths of a mile to Little Blue Lake at 11,840’. If Blue Lake is frozen solid you can ski across it to the west side of the lake and switchback up snowfields to Little Blue Lake.

Route 1 - Little Blue Couloir

  • Rating: II D8
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: South
  • Vertical: 800'
  • Approach Elevations: 10,080' - 12,640'
  • Approach Distance: From Mitchell Lake TH: 3.25 miles, From Brainard Lake Gateway TH: 6.25 miles

This exquisite beauty is one of the best couloirs on the west side of the Blue Lake Cirque. This couloir is not long, but it is surrounded by rock walls that create an amazing alpine feeling when climbing and skiing. The chute is located directly north of Little Blue Lake and it is the connecting point to the saddle between Paiute Peak and Mount Audubon. For most of the spring and early summer you cans ski this directly to the frozen Little Blue Lake. From Little Blue Lake head directly north to the chute.

Paiute Peak from the east.  Photo: Rob Writz

Paiute Peak from the east. Photo: Rob Writz

Route 2 - Southeast Face

  • Rating: II D7 R3
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: Southeast
  • Vertical: 1,000'
  • Approach Elevations: 10,080' - 12,880'
  • Approach Distance: From Mitchell Lake TH: 3.35 miles, From Brainard Lake Gateway TH: 6.35 miles

The Southeast Face is similar in aspect and pitch to the Curvaceous Couloir. Like the Curvaceous Couloir, the Southeast Face is solar thermal collector that heats immediately in the morning. Unlike the Curvaceous Couloir, the Southeast Face is riddled with rock slabs and small cliffs that result in the upgraded risk rating. This can be a good climb and ski descent, but it is wet slide central with the potential to be dragged over and into slabs and cliffs. Go to the west side of Little Blue Lake and begin your climb.

Route 3 - Curvaceous Couloir

  • Rating: II D7
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: Southeast
  • Vertical: 1,000'
  • Approach Elevations: 10,080' - 12,800'
  • Approach Distance: From Mitchell Lake TH: 3.3.5 miles, From Brainard Lake Gateway TH: 6.35 miles

The Curvaceous Couloir is the most commonly skied line on Paiute Peak. It tilts southeast and faces directly into the light upon sunrise over the Eastern Plains of Colorado. If you are going to climb and ski this route, start extra early as you do not want to be climbing or skiing this or the Southeast Face after 10 am at the latest. The Curvaceous Couloir kind of lives up to its name as it has some curves, and these become more prominent as the snow reduces into the broad couloir in the spring. The upper and broader fan at the top is the steepest and this reduces about one third of the way down. From Little Blue Lake, head southwest and around the rock rib that separates the Curvaceous from the Southeast Face.

Route 4 - South Slope

  • Rating: II D4
  • Season: Spring
  • Exposure: South, Southeast
  • Vertical: 750'
  • Approach Elevations: 10,080' - 12,600'
  • Approach Distance: From Mitchell Lake, TH: 3.5 miles, From Brainard Lake Gateway TH: 6.5 miles

The South Slope is commonly used as a climb to access the South Ridge of Paiute Peak, and often as a bail out for skiers and mountaineers who got here too late and then the Curvaceous Couloir and Southeast Face turned into a Slurpee death trap. This is a fun ski line in its own right and the views from here are great. From Little Blue Lake, head southwest and around the rock rib that separates the Curvaceous from the Southeast Face, continue west past the Curvaceous Couloir to a flat bench at the bottom of the slope.

+ TRAILHEAD

Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead (10,080’) and Mitchell Lake Trailhead (10,480’)

Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead is the access point to the Mitchell Lake and Long Lake Trailheads. The road from the Gateway Trailhead to Mitchell Lake and Long Lake may not be open to cars until mid-June. Because of this closure the spring and early summer ski adventures in the Brainard Lake area are launched from here. The spacious trailhead at the Gateway is host to a large gathering of backcountry skiers and mountaineers in the pre-dawn hours on spring weekends. When the road opens in mid-June there is an access fee into the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Access the Brainard Lake Gateway Trailhead on Brainard Lake Drive west of the town of Ward on Highway 72. Drive the road to the end.

Gear up and ski, hike or ride your bike to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead. It is about 3 miles from the Gateway on the Brainard Lake Road to the right turn leading to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead and the Long Lake Trailhead. Go about 0.4 miles straight up this road to the Mitchell Lake Trailhead (the left turn is to Long Lake Trailhead). You can check the status of the Brainard Lake Road at the USFS Roosevelt National Forest Boulder Ranger District Road Status website.

+ MAPS & PICTURES

Below we have included a link to a Google interactive map and a curated list of photos of the mountain.

 Clicking on map above will open interactive Google map website

Clicking on map above will open interactive Google map website